Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Interview: A Look Back at John Cusack's Career

John Cusack
With this year’s MegaCon in Orlando, Florida, fast approaching, what better time to share the John Cusack panel from last year? If you’re like me, you grew up watching his movies. From “Better Off Dead” and “Sixteen Candles” to “Gross Pointe Blank” and “The Raven,” John really is a household name. I had the opportunity this fall to join a panel discussion with John about his career, past and present. So buckle up and take a ride through cinema history with me.

Question: One of my favorite of your collaborations is with Nick Hornby, who wrote and adapted “High Fidelity.” Any chance of more stuff from you two?

John Cusack: It’s up to Nick because he writes the books, but I stay in contact with him, and his books are in such demand and he’s in demand. I thought it was a pretty good combo, so I’d love to do it again, definitely. He’s a terrific writer.

Q: You often used to work with your hometown Illinois crew (including sisters Joan and Ann, and friend Jeremy Piven) on films; any chance we’ll see you guys together again?

JC: I haven’t done anything with any of my friends that I used to work with a lot before because life seems to take us in different directions. We’re all in different places. But it will always be fun to get back home again.

Q: How about Broadway; have you been offered anything or would you like to tread the boards one day?

JC: On Broadway there’s a play called “The Price”; it’s an Arthur Miller play, which I like, but I haven’t found or been offered anything that I really wanted to do.

Q: More recently, tell me about your experience filming “Chi-Raq.”

JC: I don’t know how familiar you are with the film — we shot on the Southwest side of Chicago with 1,400 extras, but it’s real terrible, terrible situation. But there’s a lot of people doing great work over there trying to take back the city block by block. I play a white Catholic priest (Father Mike Corridan) on the South side of Chicago who’s been there 40 years. And so he’s spent every Sunday preaching there, and (director) Spike (Lee) and I were taking notes. Spike was writing and we were doing stuff. We spent a lot of time there and found a way to bring the story to the screen.

Q: Would you like to be involved more in indie movies? However, you seem to be proficient at any genre you try your hand in.

JC: I really like doing the supernatural genre. It just depends on what I can get going. The movie business is strange. I think it might be easier to do something like that on cable TV now because people seem to want to make movies either where they make it for like 4 million bucks and they’re art movies, or they want you to put on the tights and be a superhero. You can’t pick ones in between at the moment. But maybe I’m capable of something like that.

Q: In your opinion, what makes a movie work?

JC: I don’t know. I think any time when movies work and they’re good, there’s some part that you relate to. And sometimes you are doing them, and you think they are going to do one thing, and then the producers and the studio jump on and change it so that they don’t really reflect what they had in mind. So, it depends on the film. But usually when they work out, then you feel that there’s some part of you that’s connected to them.

Q: You’ve been known to really get into your roles, and acquire the skills that your character has.

JC: I think sometimes if you learn a skill, you pick it up right. So, if the character is doing something, you immerse yourself in it. So, like when I played Lloyd Dobler and he was a kickboxer, that’s when I started doing martial arts, and I’ve been doing that for 25 years now.

Q: I’ve read where you’ve really enjoyed working with Billy Bob Thornton.

JC: The best thing about playing with Billy Bob is just to hang out with him all the time on the set, because he’s one of the coolest, funniest people you will ever meet. One of the best people you will ever meet too. You can come on the set, and all of a sudden you’ll walk in and he’s put barnyard animals in your trailer. He’s an awesome guy.

John Cusack in 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival
Q: How do you feel about this rash of folks remaking old movies instead of creating new ones, and also all the sequels? Is there a movie you would like to remake, or a sequel you’d do?

JC: I don’t think it’s good to do a remake of a movie unless you think you can do it differently or can add something to it that it didn’t have. There is an old movie that was based on a novel called “Fat City.” It was a John Huston film, and it starred Stacy Keach and he played a boxer. I’ve been a boxing fan for a long time, so I thought, “Man, I’m 49, so I’d like to do one while I can still do it.” So I thought, “If I could do ‘Fat City’ that would be really cool.” It was done in that sort of Technicolor ’70s era when they started to make everything super-bright. At the same time it was thought to be cool, but it actually looks dated now. But I thought that might be a cool remake to do.

And then with sequels, you have to get people back together and do it the right way. If I were offered to do a sequel to one of my own movies, I’d do it, but you want to do it right.

Q: Are you hooked on any TV series at the moment?

JC: I really like “Better Call Saul.” I like everything that Vince Gilligan is up to. I think it’s such interesting stuff he’s doing. Any of those types of shows. And I’m also like a strangely secret zombie-movie fan. So, I could show up on “The Walking Dead.”

Q: You have been in the movie business for so long; what keeps you coming back?

JC: The love of it and luck, and just getting out of Hollywood whenever I can. What I’m saying is, when you stay in it all the time, it’s good to get away from it and be a normal person.

Q: Any advice for someone who wants to make it in Hollywood?

JC: If you can do some theater. Make your own movies. I mean, you can shoot it anywhere. Don’t ask permission. Learn it as you go. Make it up as you go along. And just do it because everyone says, “Well, I want to be an actor.” And then they don’t act. If you want to be a basketball player, you have to play basketball. You just couldn’t walk out onto the court and never been to the game. If you can, just do theater and do plays. Do scene classes. It’s like athletics. You just have to do it. And do it yourself. Don’t ask permission. Make your own movies.

Q: What are some parts of the business that you don’t like?

JC: Sometimes doing press work. The acting part you can do, but it’s like the stuff around it. I think sometimes selling is a lot different than acting.

Q: What is a recent movie role that you’re glad you took on?

JC: I got to go to China last year and film “Dragon Blade” with Jackie Chan. If you get a call saying, “Hey do you want to go out to the Gobi Desert and do this fight scene with Jackie Chan in a Chinese-language movie?” You just go: “When am I ever going to get a chance to do that? I’ve got to go do that! So, it was a wild experience and really fun. And then usually if the movies work out, those are really good experiences.

Q: Do you get or have you even been star-struck while working on a movie?

JC: Yeah, especially when I was younger. I remember Paul Newman, and I was like, “Oh, man!” Paul Newman was such a gentleman. He was pretty great to do a movie with. I couldn’t believe it. I got to work with a lot of my heroes growing up. And I couldn’t believe it. How did this happen, you know? Woody Allen and Al Pacino. Gene Hackman. All those guys. I grew up watching them.

Q: You’ve done a bit of voice work for animated movies. Do you like doing that kind of work?

JC: Yeah, I do like it because it’s fun to watch them figure out how to create the characters visually, and then you start to do the voices, and then you see a little bit more of it. Then you see more and more again. And the work that they put into those movies is incredible. It’s sort of a lazy job to do the voices because you just get to go into a studio and play. It’s a fun gig.

Don't miss this year's MegaCon Orlando from May 25-28 at the Convention Center on International Drive in Orlando, Florida. Find all the info you need here.

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